I am delighted to welcome Paul D. Marks to the blog!
From the publisher:
Bobby Saxon lives in a world that isn’t quite ready for him. He’s the only white musician in an otherwise all-black swing band at the famous Club Alabam in Los Angeles during World War II–and that isn’t the only unique thing about him…
And if that isn’t enough to deal with, in order to get a permanent gig with the band, Bobby must first solve a murder that one of the band members is falsely accused of in that racially prejudiced society.
Character is Conflict
by Paul D. Marks
The engine of fiction is conflict. Without it you have no story—or at best you have a boring story. Even Disney movies have it. Conflict can be internal or external. It can literally be a physical obstacle that stands in the way of the character: a mountain, a storm, an earthquake, or even a society that disapproves of that character. Or it can be a psychological obstacle, a fear, a belief, a weakness that the hero needs to overcome or conquer. Often it’s another person standing in the way of the character getting what they want. Or a combination of all of them. It’s what makes us root for the character. We want to see them overcome those obstacles.
The question then becomes what will the character do in order to achieve their goals? How far will they go? What will they sacrifice?
In The Blues Don’t Care, my mystery-thriller set on the Los Angeles home front during World War II, Bobby Saxon is a young man with two major goals in life. One of them is to get a gig with the house band at the famous Club Alabam on Central Avenue, but in order to do so he must first solve the murder one of the band members is accused of. And, if he gets the gig he’ll be the only white member in the band.
As much as anything, Bobby wants to play with the band at the Alabam. What is he willing to do to achieve that goal? He also has to deal with being the only white member of the band as well trying to solve the murder. So, will Bobby become a detective of sorts, putting his life on the line to try to solve the crime? Will he do it because it’s the right thing to do or simply because he wants the gig? What’s he willing to sacrifice to be in the band and to be the man he wants to be? Or will he find that it’s all just too damn hard and give up? And these aren’t the only conflicts that life throws Bobby’s way.
In a mystery or thriller there’s the basic conflict of trying to solve the crime and the obstacles in the way of achieving that. And there are the conflicts within the character that stand in the way of achieving those goals. But there’s also the bigger picture of the story, the zeitgeist of the times and how that plays into the story and on the character. I often set my stories in the midst of real events such as World War II in this case. I like to explore how my characters react to both larger real world events happening around them and to the more direct and personal conflicts that confront them. I like to challenge them, and in the case of Bobby I wanted to test him by putting up roadblocks that would show what he’s made of.
I’ve always been drawn to characters who are outsiders, people who don’t fit into society or who are dinosaurs that have outlived their time. These are characters that are at odds with the world around them, that don’t fit into society. They struggle to get by in the world they live in. They often go against the stereotypes of how they’re supposed to be. So, they have conflict in achieving their goals, but also in terms of fitting into society. Internal conflicts and external conflicts. Sometimes they’re people who are ahead of their time and are rebelling against the norms of society. Others are trying to get by and hide who they really are in order to survive within the narrow confines of a particular society.
Bobby is an outsider on several levels. He’s a white musician trying to get a gig with a black band. But he doesn’t fit into the mainstream either. He doesn’t do what society expects of him. At a time when most men his age are enlisting in the military, he isn’t…and for a very good reason. By putting Bobby in the middle of several conflicts, I’m able to reveal who Bobby is and what makes him tick. And then hope that, even if the reader isn’t like Bobby, they can identify with him on a human level.
Having multiple levels and layers of conflict makes the story more exciting. And by taking on those conflicts we learn more about the character—what they are willing to do, how far they will go, what they will sacrifice. Characters are the choices they make and conflict and how they react to it helps define the character.
Paul D Marks is the Shamus Award-Winning author of “The Blues Don’t Care,” partially set at the Club Alabam and Dunbar Hotel in L.A. during World War II. www.PaulDMarks.com